The Back 98™: Ego-- Shrink Wrap for Ourselves

 

"The Back 98" is the name of this blog series. The name refers to parts of our brains that work with or without "us." Some say 98% of our brains' efforts are generally off limits to us, no one knows for sure. This series is about controlling more of our nonconscious brains if we choose.

Is my ego part of the Back 98?

It depends on what you call "ego." Some people can control behaviors associated with their egos, many cannot. For those who cannot, ego behavior is part of the Back 98, and it can pack a wallop.

Are you saying that some egos are like shrink wrap?

Yes. Many egos are like shrink wrap: we see right through them and they can get in the way of proper operation. Over time, people who reduce ego-related behaviors achieve much better performance.

What's the point of this post?

For many, their egos simply get in their way. This post explores removing or dampening the effect of our egos. Do that and we can improve our relationships and increase our performance too.

What's the link between the "ego" and claims that we do not use our brains much?

I define "ego" as that essence that seeks to protect our self image from physical and mental injury. By default, egos remain mostly stable throughout our lives, i.e., they don't change much. Indeed, parts of the brain related to the ego are hard to change... even when we want to change them.

What parts of the brain relate to the ego?

Great question, and one that is hard to pin down exactly. Ego appears to derive from a couple of different areas. The anterior cingulate cortex, insula, and orbitofrontal prefrontal cortex, for example, translate into conscious attention much of the data generated below them by the limbic system and the brain stem. The amygdala, located in the limbic system, is responsible for the threat response that drives much of our "ego behavior." The hippocampus and hypothalamus are also involved, as are regions of the parietal and temporal lobes that integrate much of our sensory experience that makes up our self image.  The parts of the brain associated with a dampening of those regions are located more to the very front of our brains, areas such as the medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex is responsible for blocking some of our egos more pernicious behaviors, like wanting to sock someone in the stomach for hurting our feelings.

Does it matter if I know all of these parts of my brain you just named?

Not really; not for applying this blog in ways that can reduce ego-oriented behaviors for you.

You mention "shrink wrap"; what is that again?

"Shrink wrap" is the plastic material that protects things we buy in the store. We usually remove it when we get home because it gets in the way of the product’s best use.

Can you offer an example?

Sure, most CD cases have shrink wrap surrounding them, that is the clear plastic material that they come in. That wrap is called "shrink wrap" and it protects the product until purchase.

Do you believe we can consciously control our egos?

In a sense, yes, because we can rewire them. Our egos establish our "first natures," which is the way we are without any changes. We can modify the ego's wiring to create our "second natures."

You mean, like this: "do something enough times and it becomes second nature?"

Yes, exactly.

We can create new brain patterns that change our egos for good?

Yes. And because it is hard work, we must consciously do so. When it comes to egos, it takes lots of gumption-- that is, will, intent, and belief, to do whatever it takes to get what we want.

What is the "our selves" in your title, is that a type of self that lies behind our egos?

Great question and one that awaits your own discovery. Research suggests the ego-less self may be far more productive, loving, and energetic than the one that the ego protects.

My ego catches me by surprise a lot; so is it part of the Back 98, or not?

It depends. Triggers, or hot buttons, tip us off that the ego is in the "shields up, fire the torpedoes" mode. That is Back 98 stuff. We can change our ego response and it takes lots of practice to do so.

Why bother if it takes so much practice?

Because over time, new wiring in your brain will transform your "first nature," which is a fight or flight and ego-filled response, to a more desirable "second nature," one of your choosing.

Alright, can you go over again what you mean by ego?

“Ego" relates to our notion of self. It refers to the set of behaviors we use to contrast how we view ourselves compared to others. It includes the idea of personality, or who we think we are.

We are who we are, right?

Maybe, yet we are always subject to change. Also, it turns out our personalities are not stable. We have proof of this when we act differently on a first date, or, when a policeman pulls us over.

What are you suggesting we do with these see-through egos? Take them off?

We all have the right to remove our egos (or at least calm them down). Our egos have served their purpose. By adulthood, if we are not careful, they can get in the way of our best performances.

I thought I needed to have my ego present and accounted for to do my best work?

You are not alone in your thinking. Commonly, people think the ego is necessary to perform well. That is simply not what the research suggests. During peak performance the ego takes a holiday.

Are you saying we do our best work when our ego is not even present?

Yes. That is exactly right, our best performances happen without the ego being present at all.

Do you have research to back that?

There is a long line of research dealing with this from the 1970s. Investigate the concept of "flow," as identified first by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He studied top performers and discovered that during their best performances, their sense of self seemed to reduce, if not go away entirely.

So why do we seem to need our egos to get through challenging performances?

Beats me. All I know is what the research shows: if you have your ego present as you perform something, there is a high chance you are not peak performing at that time.

What do you recommend for removing the ego?

First, figure out your definition of ego.

Second, consider how it helps you.

Third, consider how it gets in your way.

Fourth, do a cost/benefit analysis: should it stay, or should it go? Ask others for help on this one.

Only if you are convinced it should go, or at least, be modified, then go to the next step.

Fifth, if you desire, begin to reduce your ego. Here are some ideas on how to do just that:

1) meditate: Rick Hanson has some wonderful insights on reducing ego with meditation;

2) love: adopt a specific approach to love, e.g., Jesus Christ offered great insights as did Buddha;

3) share: sharing will bond you to others and expands your intimate circle of trust;

4) question: challenge assumptions by questioning more, do it with a sense of wonder and joy;

5) wait: be patient so that the forward-most part of your brain has time to assess things properly.

That's it?

That's a great start. I wish you the best of luck,

Kevin Leahy, founder

Knowledge Advocate, LLC

www.KnowledgeAdvocate.com

Disclaimer

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

Kevin Leahy

Communications Specialist and Founder, Knowledge Advocate

I learned my communications skills during 15 years as a trial lawyer. My background informs business consults where I passionately share the right...

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